I will admit it, I was wrong. During the off-season I stood by my feeling that the White Sox should part ways with an aging AJ Pierzynski in favor of making Tyler Flowers the full time catcher.
Yes, AJ was coming off a career year, but 36-year-old catchers with that many miles on them usually do not continue to put up career numbers or stay healthy. I felt that Flowers was a cheaper alternative that, in the long run, probably wouldn’t be that big of an overall drop off. I was wrong.
While we all knew that Flowers wasn’t going to hit .284 (AJ’s career average) with 27 homers, I thought that there was a decent chance that he could hit close to 20 bombs, drive in 65+ runs and get on base with close to the frequency of Pierzynski given his ability to draw more walks than AJ, despite likely hitting for a lower average.
Pierzynski’s career OBP with the Sox of .318 seemed possible considering Flowers was pretty close to it the last couple years with inconsistent playing time. I figured that given regular playing time that he would be more effective at the plate and the drop off wouldn’t be that noticeable. I was wrong.
The defense would make up the difference, I said. Flowers would be much better at throwing out runners than Pierzynski’s 26% and he would do a much better job of blocking the plate than 8 passed balls and 54 wild pitches, AJ’s totals from last year. Once again, I was wrong.
Flowers is currently hitting .196 with a .260 on base percentage and a .326 slugging percentage for a .586 OPS. He has struck out 48 times and drawn just 10 walks. Extrapolating those numbers for a 162 game season and you are looking at 181 strikeouts and just 38 walks.
His defense has been just as bad as he has thrown out just 25% of potential base stealers and has allowed 6 passed balls and 11 wild pitches. He is a below replacement level player offensively and barely a replacement level player defensively. That basically means that an average replacement player for Flowers would be better than running him out there as the starting catcher.
Low and behold, the White Sox have a replacement for him in AAA that could be much better than just replacement level.
Josh Phegley has been tearing up the International League for the Charlotte Knights, the Sox' AAA affiliate. Phegley was the Sox 1st round sandwich pick in the 2009 draft from Indiana University.
By the end of the 2010 season Phegley was playing at AA Birmingham and moved up to AAA Charlotte at the end of the 2011 season. After a mediocre year at AAA last year Phegley seems to have taken the next step.
He is currently hitting .321 with a .375 on base percentage and slugging .618 for a very nice OPS of .993. He has struck out just 28 times in 184 plate appearances, and although he doesn’t draw a ton of walks (11) his low strikeout rate means he tends to put the bat on the ball. He also leads the Knights with 11 home runs, 31 RBI, and ranks third on the team with 14 doubles.
How about defensively? Well, Phegley’s career defensive numbers in the minor leagues are not spectacular. He has had trouble with passed balls and wild pitches in the past, allowing 20 passed balls in 2011 and 12 last year and has allowed 7 so far this year. He has been pretty consistent with throwing out runners though catching 47% of would be base stealers throughout his minor league career and 41% this season.
While his struggles behind the plate defensively have been an issue for him, he certainly doesn’t appear to be any worse than Flowers has been this season, and if he can even catch 35% of potential base stealers at the Major League level, it will still be a vast improvement.
While I am not going to say that Phegley is the answer to the Sox offensive problems, I do believe that he is at least part of a potential solution. I am not a proponent of rushing players along to fill needs at the Major League level and risk stunting their development, I think Phegley might be ready.
He is 25 years old and has spent parts of five seasons on the minors after playing college ball. He has had time to develop and improve. He went through some growing pains and appears to be in the midst of a breakout season. If nothing else you can bring him up and see what you have. If he is not ready he can go back down and continue to work on his game and you are no worse off than you were before.
I don’t think that would mess with his head because as I said before, he’s 25 years old, and not some high school kid.
Once again, Phegley is not the savior, but he could be part of the answer.
The White Sox are getting nothing offensively out of the catching position and combined with the problems the rest of the team is having, Phegley could provide a spark at the bottom of the order, something the Sox badly need.
It is getting to the point of no return with this Sox team and whether you are trying to get back into the race this year or are looking towards the future, I think it’s time to put an end to the Tyler Flowers experiment and have a look at Josh Phegley.